What is this quality “gradualness” cited by Pope Francis, and what does it mean for the circumstances of pastoral care? One area might involve those who have engaged in a civil marriage or are in a sexually-active, co-habiting state:
293. The Fathers also considered the specific situation of a merely civil marriage or, with due distinction, even simple cohabitation, noting that “when such unions attain a particular stability, legally recognized, are characterized by deep affection and responsibility for their offspring, and demonstrate an ability to overcome trials, they can provide occasions for pastoral care with a view to the eventual celebration of the sacrament of marriage”.(Relatio Synodi 2014, 27)
The Holy Father suggests we examine reasons why church marriage is rejected. Let’s keep in mind his examples are just examples. It would be important for pastoral ministers to know the reasons why particular young people they know have rejected or postponed marriage:
On the other hand, it is a source of concern that many young people today distrust marriage and live together, putting off indefinitely the commitment of marriage, while yet others break a commitment already made and immediately assume a new one. “As members of the Church, they too need pastoral care that is merciful and helpful”.(Ibid., 26)
Knowledge of these situations is not the same as endorsement. Knowledge informs a pastoral approach, and makes more effective the call to faithfulness when a message can be tailored to any readiness in the ears and heart of our people. It is not just a nice feature; it is our responsibility:
For the Church’s pastors are not only responsible for promoting Christian marriage, but also the “pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives that can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness”.(Ibid., 41) In this pastoral discernment, there is a need “to identify elements that can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth”.(Ibid.)
The object, it seems, is not a correction of an exterior state, but an inner conversion that leads a person to embrace an ideal state. One way to accomplish this is to look at aspects of a union that do express the virtues of sacramental marriage.
Do we have any objections to this?
For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.